County customers of Vero Electric could be hurt the most by a partial sale

COMMENTARY

“More ominous, still, is the likelihood areas such as Grand Harbor and the south barrier island will soon begin clamoring for a second and a third partial sale. As Vero Electric is further downsized, the utility will become less and less efficient, leaving the remaining customers paying higher and higher rates.”

“Vero Beach residents concerned about the prospect of higher taxes and higher electric rates, along with county residents on Vero Electric, should begin now to form a coalition that can petition to PSC to fully consider the likely impacts of this proposed partial sale. If not, this sell-off for the benefit of the Shores will become just another example of how the wealthy are able to buy elections to further enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.”

MARK SCHUMANN

To listen to Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot, one might get the impression "high" electric rates have left Shores residents eating cat food for dinner. The reality is that rates are not "unreasonable" or "outrageous;" and the people of the Shores, among the wealthiest in the nation, are no where near having to move themselves, along with their possessions, out onto the streets. Plain and simple, they have managed to use their wealth to buy control of the Vero Beach City Council, and now they are seeking to shaft everyone else in the community simply to benefit themselvess
To listen to Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot, one might get the impression “high” electric rates have left Shores residents eating cat food for dinner. The reality is that Vero Electric’s rates are not “unreasonable” or “outrageous;” and the people of the Shores, among the wealthiest in the nation, are nowhere near having to move themselves, along with their possessions, out onto the streets. Plain and simple, aided by FPL, Shores residents have managed to use their considerable wealth to buy control of the Vero Beach City Council. Now they are seeking to shaft everyone else in the community simply to benefit themselves.

Annoyed that the sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light has been stalled, if not blocked by contract issues, local proponents of the deal, FPL officials, and Indian River Shores leaders, along with two newly elected FPL-Shores sponsored Vero Beach City Council members, are itching to release at least some of their pent-up frustration.

They seem convinced that selling Vero Beach’s 3500 Indian River Shores customers, a so called-partial sale, will have benefits beyond bringing barrie island residents in the Shore the electric rate relief they need to avoid slipping into the ranks of the homeless. To be sure, the partial sale will give FPL President and C.E.O., Eric Silagy, the small victory he needs to avoid accusations he misled a group of investors several years ago, when he claimed the company was on the verge of expanding its customers base by acquiring municipal utilities, starting with Vero Electric.

Unfortunately for the residents and taxpayers of Vero Beach and the remaining customers of Vero Electric, the deal could be bad for everyone but Shores residents and Silagy. In fact, if the new Shores-FPL sponsored City Council majority of Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes agrees to a partial sale at too low a price, and/or if the proceeds are misused in any number of ways that were promised during the campaign, City taxes and electric rates are sure to rise.

FPL is offering $30 million, with $3 million of that to be raised from a surcharge on Shores residents. To some, the offer seems generous, but a team of five independent utility experts hired by the City concluded it will take $47 million to partition and downsize Vero Electric without the move resulting in higher taxes for Vero Beach residents and higher electric rates for the City’s remaining customers. (For a detailed explanation of the City’s calculations see: Vero Beach, Shores, FPL representatives to discuss numbers for a ‘partial sale.)

Outgoing City Councilman and Vice Mayor Randy Old, who lost re-election by 48 votes to Shores-FPL sponsored Sykes, has said he believes a sale at $30 million will disadvantage the remaining customers and the taxpayers of Vero Beach. Old has gone so far as to say accepting just $30 million, and rejecting the advice of the experts, would amount of breach of a City Council member’s fiduciary responsibility to the people of Vero Beach.

County customers of Vero Electric stand the most to lose. For starters, if the Shores-FPL sponsored Howle-Moss-Sykes team fires special counsel Schef Wright and shows up at the negotiating table outgunned, they will almost surely bring home less than $30 million. Second, they, and a political action committee funded by Shores residents and by FPL, have proposed ways of using the $30 million that benefit the city, but have nothing to do with preventing electric rates from rising.

More ominous, still, is the likelihood areas such as Grand Harbor and the south barrier island will soon begin clamoring for a second and a third partial sale.  As Vero Electric is further downsized, the utility will become less and less efficient, leaving the remaining customers paying higher and higher rates.

Whatever give-away Howle, Moss and Sykes agree to will still have to be approved by the Florida Public Service Commission. Already weary of the issue, the PSC might be tempted to approve the deal without given much consideration to how it will impact the City’s remaining customers. However, if the PSC does its job, and is unwilling to approve a service territory change that is detrimental to some, then there may still be some hope for the taxpayers of Vero Beach and the remaining customers of Vero Electric.

It is time for the people of Vero Beach to recognize that at least three members of their City Council are, for all intents and purposes, owned by outside interests; and it is unrealistic to expect the Shores-FPL controlled City Council to represent the interests of the people of Vero Beach.

Vero Beach residents concerned about the prospect of higher taxes and higher electric rates, along with county residents on Vero Electric, should begin now to form a coalition that can petition to PSC to fully consider the likely impacts of this proposed partial sale. If not, this sell-off for the benefit of the Shores will become just another example of how the wealthy are able to buy elections to further enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.

Editor’s note: In the recent Vero Beach City Council election Laura Moss received 70% of her campaign contributions from Indian River Shores residents. Sykes took in more than 90% of his campaign funds from wealthy residents in the neighboring community. Both Moss and Sykes were also supported by a political action committee than raised $55,000 from FPL and another $60,000 from Shores residents.

2 comments

  1. Working together, Indian River Shores residents and Florida Power and Light did successful buy control of the Vero Beach City Council. If the Shores-FPL controlled majority of the City Council thinks the can without accountability sell out the people of Vero Beach, they are mistaken.

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